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Game is nice, but league isn’t ready for a Strip club

When I look out into your faces,

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Feb. 24, 2007 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday February 24, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 58 words Type of Material: Correction
Las Vegas and the NBA: In the Feb. 17 Sports section, the “On the NBA” column quoted Robin Leach as saying he thought Las Vegas would get a pro team, citing Leach’s “column in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.” The Las Vegas Review-Journal does not publish a column by Leach; the quotation was from Leach’s online blog on vegaspopular.com.

You know what I see?

I see a little bit of Elvis....

He’s in the young, the old,

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the fat, the skinny,

the white, the black

the brown and the blue

people got Elvis in ‘em too.

Mojo Nixon

“Elvis Is Everywhere”

LAS VEGAS -- And now he’s in the NBA too!

Welcome to the 2007 NBA All-Star game, or as it’s known by its participants, fans and the people covering it, “What game?”

In an overdue development in the mindless revelry this event has become, the NBA has taken it where no one else ever thought to go -- the world capital of mindless revelry!

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It’s a new phenomenon, the venue as star of the show. Not that it’s an inspired move, but this is the NBA players’ spiritual home as well as Elvis Presley’s.

Well, maybe spiritual is the wrong word, but the players definitely like it.

Did you notice that all of the All-Stars who dropped out because of injuries were actually injured?

Carlos Boozer, who broke a bone in his leg two weeks ago, had another MRI exam before finally being told he had to scratch. Shaquille O’Neal accepted his selection after playing four games when the starters were announced.

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Four years ago, with the Finals in San Antonio, the running joke was that Commissioner David Stern would barricade himself in David Robinson’s school to attract attention to it.

This weekend the joke is that the rest of the league will hole up here and refuse to go back to the regular season.

By the way, if you’re wondering if the NBA will put a team here, that’s a done deal, The Times learned ... from reading Robin Leach’s column in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

“I’m not a gambling man,” Leach wrote, “but if I was to make one solid bet it would be that ... as we welcome the 2007 NBA All-Star festivities, we’ll hear definitively for the first time that Vegas will get its very own professional basketball team.”

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Apparently all excited, the paper ran the column under the headline:

“Las Vegas Will Get NBA Team in 2007; Miss America Tours the Strip and Weekend Celebrity Spotting.”

Stern seemed to soften his opposition to betting on NBA games after meeting Wednesday with Mayor Oscar Goodman, which could have been significant or merely good manners.

Goodman will make a proposal to a group of NBA owners April 23 ... but that’s as close as Vegas will come to getting a professional basketball team this weekend.

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This weekend is actually an elaborate flirtation preceding any real negotiations.

Stern thinks Las Vegas will be so enchanted by his circus, it will give the NBA what it wants.

Goodman thinks the NBA will be so happy with his circus, it will come one way or another.

Nevertheless, if even the owners are rooting for Goodman, Stern runs league affairs with an iron hand and isn’t inclined to let applicants dictate terms.

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As in Charlotte, N.C., where he broke new ground by putting not one but two expansion teams, Stern’s message is more like, “Call us when you get a new arena and $400 million.”

In the meantime, Stern has teams in Seattle and Sacramento trying to get new arenas and it’s nice to have options, let alone such visible ones.

“As a practical matter it always pays to have safety valves,” Stern said last week from New York. “They’re always constructive. There are no secrets, there are always teams that are in ongoing negotiations and there are always places where new buildings are going online.”

There’s no new arena going up here, but as Goodman would tell you, around here, they just spring out of the ground.

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Who built the pyramids?

ELVIS!

Who built Stonehenge?

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ELVIS!

-- “Elvis is Everywhere”

Actually, Elvis didn’t build the local pyramid, Luxor, which now has more than 40,000 square feet of its front covered by a poster of Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard.

Not that it’s the biggest ever. That’s supposedly at Mandalay Bay, according to Elite Media, the company that brokered both, where there’s a poster of Dwyane Wade 250 feet high.

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Talk about made for each other. Amid the tributes to so many of the world’s glamour destinations, Stern could run his entire international outreach from here and save his teams the jet lag.

In recent years, Stern’s All-Star game, a combination showcase and schmooze for big-ticket sponsors, has grown into such a monster, it’s hard to find cities with enough hotel rooms, not to mention a high enough threshold of pain.

Philadelphia corporate boss Ed Snider, angered at seeing his season-ticket holders displaced by league sponsors in 2002, said he would never have the event back.

In 2004, the Lakers turned the league down when they were asked to host it. The league coordinated that one itself.

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Bringing it here was the brainchild of Sacramento Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof, whose family owns the Palms Casino Hotel, where the players will stay amid security worthy of heads of state.

Not that it was a hard sell, to Stern or Las Vegas.

“This is going to be like a heavyweight fight, New Year’s Eve, Super Bowl Sunday and the Final Four all wrapped up together,” Goodman says. “It’s going to be a party people will remember forever....

“They’re figuring about $26 million in non-gaming revenue, but I think it’s going to be substantially more than that. The gaming revenue, there’s no telling what’s going to be played at the table.”

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They might win that much just off the players. The reported losses of former star players like Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley only hint at the inclination of wealthy NBA players to risk huge sums.

Lots of cities have former attorneys for mayors. Here, the mayor’s practice included a who’s-who of mob figures.

No one else’s mayor serves as a spokesman for a gin company. Before Goodman, not even Las Vegas had a mayor’s face on gambling chips, as his is at the Four Queens.

“Did you see the movie ‘Casino?’ ” Goodman says. “I represented all those guys. If that makes you a mob lawyer, what could I tell you?”

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Goodman played himself in a cameo role. Clients from that movie included Frank (Lefty) Rosenthal, the inspiration for the Robert De Niro character, and Anthony (the Ant) Spilotro, who inspired the Joe Pesci role.

“You wouldn’t call him ‘the Ant’ to his face,” Goodman says of Spilotro. “When I went to the costume room the first time, I had to do a double take. I saw him [Pesci] standing there and he looked like my client had risen from the dead....

“I represented him [Spilotro] time and time again. Murder cases. Racketeering cases. All sorts of cases. He was a wonderful client. He always thanked me for everything I did. He was always polite to my staff, and he paid me well.”

Goodman won his first term in 1999 with 64% of the vote and his second in 2003 with 86%. Proclaiming himself “the happiest mayor in the universe,” he makes appearances, as in Barcelona, Spain, last fall for a Philadelphia 76ers exhibition, with Las Vegas showgirls on each arm.

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Las Vegas was a co-sponsor of the league’s Europe Live Tour, one of Stern’s favorite projects.

“Let’s put it this way,” Goodman said. “He’s a smart guy and I have a lot of respect for him, and I’m not the dullest bulb in the lot, so the two of us should be able to get together.”

For one precedent-breaking weekend, at least. Someone said there’s even a game today or tomorrow.

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mark.heisler@latimes.com


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